A prayer for the lonely
Though there are lakhs of lonely Indians and loneliness has a direct impact on health, it is an issue that has been largely left unaddressed in India
The fact that the number of suicides increases during the holiday season is a long-perpetuated myth. It is, however, known and accepted that people, in general, feel lonelier during festivals. Last week's Christmas and New Year revelry is one such example. If you're single, lonely and/or elderly, chances are that somewhere you would have felt the pinch. Some memory or even social media post or an advertisement would have tugged at your heart's strings.
And why wouldn't that be? Holiday season is a time for family; a celebration of the social structure that has been made almost mandatory for the human species. If, perchance, you don't belong to that structure or for some unfortunate reason are away from it or have lost it, the holiday season is sure to remind you of that unwholly part of your life. The Christmas and New Year's greetings of smug family photos declaring greetings 'from ours to yours' and what not. Loneliness though, whether induced by the holiday season or not, is a serious consequence of our modern, fast-paced life. No wonder then that numerous studies and research attempt to throw better light on it.
Consider this, loneliness causes depression, which, in turn, causes heart disease. A study by The Economist and the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) found that 9 per cent of adults in Japan, 22 per cent in the US and 23 per cent in Britain feel lonely. Another study also alarmingly notes that lonely people are sadder, unhealthier and die younger with 40 per cent more chances of a heart attack. While the UK reportedly has 2.4 million lonely adults, India's figures, dating 15 years ago, say that 1.23 million men and 3.68 million women were lonely. The fact that the numbers are yet to be updated shows the lack of importance that we give to the subject of mental health in general and loneliness in particular.
Isolation, sickness, country/city relocation due to work, death of a partner/spouse, all lead to greater feelings of loneliness among people. Add to that the onslaught of technology, which while proffering virtual options to connect with people, robs one of basic, physical interaction among human beings. So, how does one combat loneliness and survive life? Well, technology is being used to come up with social robots and robotic sex companions etc., in countries such as Japan, where entire human families and companions are also available on hire. Some American companies are helping provide the elderly with young tenants who, in turn, offer support. In India, we see a handful of small firms and individuals offering elderly care as a service but the problem of loneliness is largely left unaddressed compared to say the UK where a minister of loneliness has been appointed.
Personally, I believe that while technology does provide innovative solutions to make living easier for the lonely, there can be no alternative to the human touch. My friend, Madhavi Katuri in Delhi, for instance, is working in the space of elder care wherein she also spends precious time with senior citizens giving them much-needed company. Dogs and other pets are also great ways to combating loneliness. Also, next time you have a holiday celebration at home, be sure to invite that single friend or lonely neighbour to bring in some cheer during the holidays.
(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)